What do athletes eat?

At Swarthmore, eating can be hard.  Face it, we all get tired of eating the “Sharples slop” every once in a while. Though you have your gem meals like flank steak, jerk chicken and salmon, more often than not you’ll get a dud such as baked potato bar (how nutritious), cold ham or tilapia. It’s these days when being an athlete takes a toll. After a two-hour team practice, or a one-hour lift, an athlete’s body needs nourishment. It’s quite difficult to find nourishment, specifically protein, when there are bars such as these. As a result, many athletes turn to the deli bar, the salad bar or the grill in order to compensate.

In general, college athletes are conscious of what they put into their body because that translates specifically to their performance on the field, pitch, pool or court. However, among the population of college athletes, there is a large disparity in opinion about what to eat. Some athletes feel very strongly about sticking to a particular diet, while others try to eat healthy but don’t have strict guidelines.

One person who has a strict eating regimen is shot-put and discus thrower Colton Aho ’15. At a lean 6’2 inches, Aho needs to stay in shape to perform at a high level. As a result, he puts a lot of effort into crafting a diet that works for him. He eats a diet high in calories, carbs and proteins. While he emphasizes these three aspects of his diet, he maintains that he has to keep a watchful eye on portions. Aho believes that everything he does off the field including what he eats translates to his performance on the field.

“If you want your car to perform as best as possible, you give it premium gas,” Aho said. “It’s the same concept for athletic performance. You get out what you put in.”

Just like Aho, baseball player Matt Palmer ’18 pays careful attention to what types of food and drinks that he consumes. However, unlike Aho, Palmer has a much more regimented diet. The diet he follows is called the Paleo Diet. In this diet, also referred to as the caveman diet, Palmer only consumes natural foods that would have been available to prehistoric people – i.e. meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts. As a result, he is not allowed to consume processed sugars, grains or dairy. Though there are myriad restrictions, Palmer has been very pleased with the effects from the Paleo Diet.

“Ultimately the diet has helped me to be a better athlete and be more efficient in my daily life, everything I wanted it to do,” Palmer said. “After four months on the diet, I have noticeably higher energy levels, my digestion is better, and I never feel bloated after a meal. In terms of physical results, the diet has helped to prepare me for baseball, which entails long days and a sustained competitive state.”

Palmer may be happy with the diet, but he struggles to find sufficient food to eat at Sharples. Most specifically, Palmer notes that most of Sharples foods are cooked in vegetable and soybean oils. These are against the diet because they are processed. However, even though Palmer has to go through many difficulties to carry out this diet, he claims that he intends “to continue the diet indefinitely.”

Though Palmer is resolute about what he eats, many athletes will just eat what’s available in Sharples’ daily special bars.

Starting women’s basketball point guard Jessica Jowdy ’16 notes, “When the options are healthy (salad bars, grilled chicken) I tend to eat the main entrees. However, when it is macaroni bar or pizza bar, I will often indulge in these junk foods.” Jowdy went on to say, “So rather than sticking to a specific diet, I believe that just as long as I cover the major dietary needs like protein, vegetables, etc, I’m content.”

Jowdy’s dietary views are common among the Swarthmore athletic world. In fact, the other point guard, the point guard of the men’s basketball team Matt Brennan ’18 shared very similar feelings.

He said, “I’m not a health nut but I try to eat something from all of the different food groups. I’m not too stressed about it, but I am conscious of what I am eating.”

Ideally, athletes will have a broad selection of foods to choose from to make fulfilling their daily food groups. However, there are some meals where some athletes have trouble doing so.

Tennis player Mark Fallati ‘18 acknowledged, “I think Sharples lunches are not bad, but if I don’t like the main options I often fall into the trap of grabbing a bowl of cereal or just making a quick salad. They don’t exactly get me ready for practice or a big match.”

Perhaps one reason why cereal and a salad didn’t get Fallati ready for athletic activity was because it didn’t reach athletic nutritional standards.

According to Eric Hoffman, the Swarthmore head strength and conditioning coach, before competition, “athletes should eat: 1) within two hours of competition, 2) easy to digest familiar foods, 3) 200-500 calories depending on dietary needs and 4) an athlete’s distribution of calories from macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein).” This breaks down to 55% carbs, 20% fat and 25% protein.

Perhaps the meal that fits Coach Hoffman’s pre-game dietary advice the most is a simple sandwich. Whether it be turkey, ham, or roast beef, a sandwich adequately fills up Coach Hoffman’s criteria for carbs, fats and proteins. Although sandwiches could be the best pre-game meal, many athletes don’t actually eat sandwiches before a game.

“I think Sharples would definitely benefit from an expanded deli/sandwich section. A lot of people would be willing to make sandwiches for lunch, and they can be great fuel as an athlete,” Fallati said. “[I think] more meats/cheese/condiments on a daily basis would be really useful, both as an athlete and even for relieving stress on the massive lines during peak times.”

Fallati’s suggestion seems to be one that could benefit all sports and improve athletic production throughout the department.

All in all, though Sharples is not the best dining hall in the world, it certainly is not the worst. And with all you can eat bars available for every single meal, one thing athletes never are is sold short.

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